Schooling issues (US) (none / 0) (#86)
by vsigma on Sat Jun 10, 2000 at 10:43:50 AM EST
Hi. As a ceramic engineer/QA silly person turned teacher for the past 2 years in an attempt to change the world to do something positive - these are the conclusions I have drawn, along with some commentary on some of the things I saw related to this story...
- Curriculm: I teach in New Jersey, and there are state mandated 'things' that we have to get through, as well as things that we, as teachers would like to get through. The unfortunate thing is that standardized testing that is so prevalent these days slices down on the stuff that we would like to get through (the fun stuff, and not just the basic material). Teaching AP Chem/honours Chem/AP Physics (A-B)/honours physics [yes, I was dumb *AND* suicidal when i took this job for the past year] - I have to nail a variety of things on a fairly tight schedule - especially since the AP exams are early May. And while I am 25 at the moment, and really, not all that removed from these students of mine, I feel such a disparity of ability compared to when I went to high school (graduated HS in '93). Some of the essential core basic computing skills have been replaced with the desire and dependency on calculators. Cheating is rather common form with these new graphic calculators, where they simply use the programme space to just dump in equations and other things. And let me tell you, trying to conjure up exams that do not exactly require calculators *AND* allow for a somewhat easy grading session is NOT an easy task. I have to balance exams between comprehension/base knowledge/understanding/gradability. Its rather insane most of the time. Heading back to curriculum, the goal, ultimately, is to show the students how to learn and problem solve (At least, that is what I believe). One can always learn content by picking up a book and reading, but problem solving skills are ultimately more important in this thing that we call life. As without them, none of us would survive in the real world. And the core materials these days just do not allow for problem solving skills, but more for flush and dump content knowledge (like some one else who posted about their class valedictorian earlier) for these damned standardized tests.
- teacher certification - most of you would laugh at how I got certified, but I laud the state in implementing it. As my undergraduate degrees are in Ceramic engineering AND theater (no education what so ever), I technically have zero education experience when i decided that I would like a chance to change the world for the better. In NJ, they offer a programme called Alternate Route, where, essentially, as long as you have a bachelor's degree in *ANYTHING*, and am willing to pay money to take some standardized exams* (more on this later), fill out some forms, get checked out by the FBI and pay money to the state - they'll give you a provisional license to legally look for a job. Once you find somewhere that is interested in taking you on as one of these alternate route candidates, you are thrown into teaching for 1 full year, and take a class that lasts for approximately 80% of the school year. Assuming you survive the class and teaching the classes that you have for the year, and get ok reviews from your department head and principal, you get a REAL teaching certification which does not say how you got it in the first place. Obviously, they will only allow you to teach in areas where you have your degree in *OR* where you have worked for at least X number of years with demonstrated proof of knowledge to teach in that area. WHY are they doing this, you might inquire. Well, in the areas that I am certified for (Physical science, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Performing Art) - there is a significant shortage of people. Not even just good people or bad people, but shortage in general. And many people who are displaced from industry are more than qualified to do this, so that they allow it. And it makes sense to a certain degree, after all, teaching, in some sense, is essentially 'Crowd Control while attempting to disseminate knowledge and understanding at the same time.'
So whats the deal with that standardized tests to become a teacher?? Well, let me tell you - go over to www.ets.org and look under the Praxis area, and specifically, the praxis II's (subject exams), heck, take a look at the praxis I (general content knowledgre) as well, and look at the sample questions *AND THEN* goto your local barnes and noble (borders/waldenbooks, whatever) and just go pick up a book in the test taking section on these things and tell me what you see. For those of us utterly too lazy or unable to do so, what you will find is that the questions are *VERY* easy and cover essentially just basic high school material (not even the AP level stuff!!!!!). When I signed up to take the math certificate test, I assumed that well, in order to become a teacher, I really ought to know more than what the students would possibly ever need to know so that i can anticipate their questions of 'why am I learning this?' or 'what can this be used for?' I essentially, within 3 weeks, relearned what I had forgotten of Calculus 1-3, Advanced Calculus (epsilon delta proofs of calculus), Differntial equations, Statistics, Linear equations, Trig, Geometry, and Non-Euclidian Geometry - expecting this test to be total carnage. When I showed up to take the test, I talked to some of the other people taking the exam - education majors and older teachers that were going for certification. Some of them (the college students) had told me that they had failed the exam twice already, and hoped that this would be an easier time. I was scared, needless to say, as I figured that heck if these people who have taken classes for this stuff is failing, what chance do I stand? I was handed the exam booklet, made sure that it was the test i needed, opened the seal and proceeded to flip through the content of questions, expecting to suffer greatly before I ever started this. Needless to say, I was shocked and stunned and even asked the test instructor if this WAS the right test - who asked me if I was going for math certification, and I said yes. He responded that this was the correct test. At which point I proceeded to destroy the 50 question exam (that you get 2 hours for, no less) on material covering for basic maths to algebra to geometry to pre-calc and 2 whole questions of calculus (ideas on limits). in under 40 minutes. When I got my score back, I cleaned house.
Now, when you set standards this low, it is no wonder that student scores and understanding levels are going to be reduced. The same thing occured in Chem and physics. It was rather sad, actually.
- other teachers/administrators - Remember, once you get Tenure at a public school (or private for that matter, that's where I am now), you're pretty much set for life, as long as you do not do anything terribly, extremely dumb. Now, I was fortunate to have a group of caring, interesting and wanting to teach teachers when I was in high school. These days, it's more about the money and what they can get out of it (convience, benefits and sick days) than anything else. Some of my fellow teachers, are truly idiots. They would NOT stand a chance in the real world, so, the adage of 'Those who can, can. Those who can't, teach.' applies in their cases. The rest in general are tired of fighting a war on multiple fronts that they feel are continually losing. They have to battle the parents as to why the kids are not doing well (you should see/hear some of the complaints these days, when back in my day it was simply us for not working hard enough *AND* not seeking help on our own) It's now automatically the teacher's fault. And then the administrators for the parents complaints, and also the school board as well. Its a thankless job, and as those who are truly dedicated (the baby-boomers) retire within the next 3-5 years, we are going to be truly screwed. Also, the older teachers don't like it when an upstart comes in, and has more knowledge and understanding that they do, and actually do well (these are the ones that are truly burned out and doing minimal to scrape by) - and do the usual politic thing to get you screwed. And this is the most dangerous thing of all, we (as teachers anyway) are supposed to be serving the students and helping them, not making us look good. Some of that vision has been lost through changes in our society.
Okay, enough bickering, let me offer a possible solution for it all. And a sequence to do it no less :)
1) Change the teaching certification requirements in 6-8 years to take full effect, with graded levels as we get there that the certification process is a lot more difficult in terms of content knowledge *AND* understanding. This will enable colleges to adjust according to the plans to support this and the school systems to see what they'll actually get out of it. Starting with the lowest level teachers (Kindgarden thru elementary - this is the most important level anyway, get the best and brightest there, and we'll have more of the best and brightest upcoming). and work our way up to the high school level as the products of these new teachers move up. While we're here, also change the requirements about administrators as well, too many are physical education backgrounded to be doing much good in the general sense as they don't understand the REAL classroom needs. How many admin's have we all known in our education career that's been more than useless?
2) Throw more money toward salaries, support crews and facilities (in that order) to help the teaching process. Keep happier and knowledgeable teachers. You can always fudge labs and space - if the students are interested in learning because the material content is there, and the support to learn is there, they won't mind much about the space they are learning it in. As teachers/students get better, then invest in some heavy duty stuff that the teachers recommend, and not what the administrators recommend to make their lives easier and more productive.
3) Pass laws to make parents accountable for what their childern do. Public school is not a 'free' daycare mandated by law. There are people there who want to learn. Parents should be accountable to a certain degree to what the students are doing. Without this in place, the kids are running rampant, because they *KNOW* that it doesn't matter. Punish the students who are disruptive by making them do 'menial' work. Take them out, have them do work around the school helping the janitorial staff - I'm sure they would welcome the free help. If they do not shape up, ship them out to some kind of forced work programme for pennies - show them the value of a having an education. Have the schools have more 'fun' functions for the ones that are there to learn. With the extra money already put in for the extra support staff, they can manage and run it, instead of making the stressed out teachers do so.
[Yes, I am slightly bitter about that last point. Parents these days - in general - do not take a strong enough stand on their own childern, and they wonder why our society is going down the drain.]
4) Make the teachers accountable. Tenure, does not mean you slack off. Again, with newly designed and thinking skill oriented standardized tests, one could conceivably take a score on a teacher.
5) Reinstate corporal punishment *grins wickedly*
okay okay, I'll be the first to freely admit that some of this is not plausible/feasible in certain degrees. I mean, you could have a batch of students who's learning abilities are lesser than another group, or even desire (Ex. General Skills versus College Prep). Or the inverse to make a teacher look good. We also have the fundamental shift in society to deal with - and that is the instant gratification bit. Attention spans are, overall, down. Remember the days when us 'old' folk used 300-2400 baud modems and downloaded for hours for 1 single game on a C64? These kids are spoiled by Cable Modems and instant responses. They no longer have the patience, and that has to be taught somehow - any takers on that one? And there are also other social ramifications - if we throw more money to education, what happens to the jails (I say lets do more executions instead of this for life junk, give the military freebie target practice, and save money on feeding/support staff fees for institutions. Heck, i'm willing to bet that if we did it on pay per view, the government could get mucho bucks as well)?
What I got out of it? The world does not want to be changed. I'll go back to engineering, where there is no dress code, and a whole lot less work (No grading!! YIPEE!!!!!) for a whole lot more money (110k versus 28.5k) and free beer to boot.
Now, notice that I didn't say teaching was bad, just that it's not for me. I admire and am jealous of those who have the WILL and conviction to teach for life. I wish I had some of their faith.
Comments welcome -firstname.lastname@example.org